Examples of Naturalist Virtues in Action

Cafaro sees a great deal of virtue in Leopold's description of the lengths gone to in order to witness and appreciate nature, especially the humility required for such an act.

Folksonomies: nature virtue naturalism humility

The Efforts and Rewards of Naturalism

One day I buried myself, prone, in the muck of a muskrat house. While my clothes absorbed local color, my eyes absorbed the lore of the marsh. A hen redhead cruised by with her convoy of ducklings, pink-billed fluffs of greenish-golden down. A Virginia rail nearly brushed my nose. The shadow of a pelican sailed over a pool in which a yellow-leg alighted with warbling whistle; it occurred to me that whereas I write a poem by dint of mighty cerebration, the yellow-leg walks a better one just by lifting his foot.

A mink slithered up the shore behind me, nose in air, trailing. Marsh wrens made trip after trip to a knot in the bulrushes, whence came the clamor of nestlings. I was starting to doze in the sun when there emerged from the open pool a wild red eye, glaring from the head of a bird. Finding all quiet, the silver body emerged: big as a goose, with the lines of a slim torpedo. Before I was aware of when or whence, a second grebe was there, and on her broad back rode two pearly-silver young, neatly enclosed in a corral of humped-up wings. All rounded a bend before I recovered my breath. And now I heard the [call], clear and derisive, behind the curtain of the reeds.


This passage describes the lengths the naturalist will go to in order to witness nature\'s miracles.

Folksonomies: nature wonder naturalism


A Response to Leopold\'s Description

The passage shows how different aspects of virtue connect. Patience is part intellectual virtue, part moral virtue and part physical virtue, as it is portrayed here. The humility which allows Leopold to lie down in the muck unselfconsciously is a moral virtue, but humble recognition of our own ignorance is also a key intellectual virtue, as Socrates so often reminds us (see also William Beebe’s description of the ideal naturalist quoted earlier). Humility also makes possible Leopold’s aesthetic appreciation of the grace of the yellow-leg, and in his recognition of the beauty of the yellow-leg’s natural “poetry,” we see the genesis of his recognition of its intrinsic value. The passage also shows that virtues can be put to diverse and complementary uses. The patience and persistence needed to explore the marsh are also needed to write a compelling account of the experience for his readers. Many revisions were made to this narrative which reads so effortlessly, just as many trips to the marsh were necessary for Leopold to see the grebes so closely and to appreciate all the rest of what he saw. Presumably patience and persistence were also needed to teach his classes at the university, raise his children, wrangle with politicians and bureaucrats, and do the many other things that Leopold did so well during the course of his life.


Cafaro sees a great deal of virtue in a naturalist\'s description of getting muddy to witness nature and appreciate it.

Folksonomies: spiritual naturalism virtue naturalism